Bill Gates Bets on the Future of Internal Combustion
By Ravi Nagarajan
In recent years, electric cars have captured the imagination of environmentalists and others who are interested in the future of automobiles. It has become a common belief that the days of the internal combustion engine are numbered. After all, internal combustion engines installed in motor vehicles account for a significant amount of carbon dioxide emissions. As consumers in the developing world gain purchasing power, the number of motor vehicles worldwide will increase dramatically.
Electric cars may represent the future in the rich world, but the practical limitations in terms of cost and infrastructure make such vehicles unlikely to penetrate into poorer parts of the world over the next decade. If internal combustion engines can be dramatically improved, carbon emissions can be controlled in the developing world.
Bill Gates recently participated in a $23.5 million round of financing for EcoMotors to further develop its Opoc engine technology. The company states that its goal is to demonstrate the automobile industry’s first five passenger car capable of 100 miles per gallon based on the EPA’s highway mileage standard.
The Opoc engine technology is capable of running on many different fuels including gasoline, diesel and ethanol. If the company is able to create a low cost engine capable of 100 miles per gallon performance, that achievement will significantly raise the bar for the efficiency requirements of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles do not produce carbon emissions directly but most power plants operating in the United States burn some type of fossil fuel.
Bill Gates obviously does not believe that the internal combustion engine will disappear anytime soon given the practical advantages offered by over a hundred years of proven experience and the extensive infrastructure of motor fuels in both rich and developing countries. While the development of electric cars has the potential to curb emissions in richer countries that can afford massive infrastructure changes, a dramatic improvement in internal combustion engines may be the only hope of controlling emissions in developing countries.